MLB Playoffs: Atlanta Braves Beat Phillies 8-7, Clinch Wild Card

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MLB Playoffs: Atlanta Braves Beat Phillies 8-7, Clinch Wild Card
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
The illustrious Bobby Cox rides off the field in showers of beer, headed to a final postseason.

As a diehard Atlanta Braves fan, I can honestly say that five years doesn't seem like all that long to wait, but it felt like eternity to me.  In five years, I have gotten married, had three kids, had three jobs, joined the Army, and have seen several family members go to be with the Lord.  Well, Braves fans, the wait is over.  The Atlanta Braves have clinched the Wild Card and are set to face the San Francisco Giants in the National League Divisional Series, starting October 7, 2010 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  How did the Braves clinch?

Locked in a tie with the San Diego Padres on the final game of the season, the Braves' chances didn't look incredibly good.  They were playing the red-hot Philadelphia Phillies, who had already clinched the NL East and were making an embarrassment out of the Braves.  Along came Tim Hudson.  Hudson was perfect in four of the seven innings he pitched, giving up homers to John Mayberry and Cole Hamels, and leaving after the seventh with an 8-4 lead.  Jonny Venters, who has usually been sharp, come in an gave up two runs, and Billy Wagner came in and gave up another run, making it 8-7, before recording the final out of the 8th.  Wagner came back in the top of the ninth to blow away Shane Victorino, Brian Schneider, and Greg Dobbs to secure the win.  The San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres to clinch the NL West and secure the Wild Card Championship for the Atlanta Braves. 

Derrek Lee, Jason Heyward, Omar Infante, and Matt Diaz all came through in a big way offensively for the Braves today.  Lee hit his 19th homer of the year, drove in his 80th run, and gave the Braves a huge boost in the sixth.  Jason Heyward also hit a big triple off of Roy Oswalt, driving in a run.  The Braves ended Bobby Cox's last regular season game with a blast -- of champagne.

Squinting through champagne-soaked eyes, the Braves players spoke of how Bobby has done so much for this franchise and baseball as a whole.  From veterans like Chipper Jones and Derrek Lee to rookies like Jason Heyward and Jonny Venters, the feelings about Bobby Cox were mutual: he is going to be sorely missed next year when the first pitch is thrown at Turner Field. 

Robert Joseph Cox, known by the baseball world as Bobby, was born May 21, 1941, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  After signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, without playing a single game with either team, Cox signed with the New York Yankees as a third baseman.  He played from 1968-1969 and batted .225 with 9 homers and 58 runs batted in.  Because of bum knees, Cox went from the plate to the dugout, beginning a managerial career that would span nearly 40 years.  In 1971, Cox started his career as the manager of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees, the Single-A Florida State League affiliates of the New York Yankees.  The team finished 71-70, a fourth place finish.  In 1972, he was bumped up to the West Haven Yankees of the Eastern League and won the league championship, finishing 84-56.  He then spent 1973-1976 as the manager of the Syracuse Chiefs, the AAA affiliate of the Yankees, and finished 76-70 (3rd), 74-70 (2nd), 72-64 (3rd), and 82-57 (2nd), respectively.  He won the International League championship with the Chiefs in 1976.  In 1978, Bobby Cox began a major league managing career that would take him to five countries, five World Series, and 29 seasons of excellent baseball.

The 1978 Atlanta Braves were a flop, going 69-93 and finishing dead last.  1979 wasn't that great either, with the Braves going 66-94.  1980 showed more of what Bobby Cox was capable of, with the Braves finishing 81-80 and coming in 4th in the NL West.  Bobby only managed 107 games in 1981, posting a record of 50-56, and ending with Bobby on his way out of Atlanta.  The Toronto Blue Jays took a gamble of Bobby, bringing his knack for small ball to the big skies of Toronto.  Managing the Blue Jays from 1982-1985, Bobby steadily improved the Jays, going from a 6th place finish in 1982 to a division title in 1985.  After producing a division champ in Toronto, the Braves decided the 1980s were horrible enough to make an attempt to rebuild and that Bobby Cox was the man to do the rebuilding.  Over the next five years, the Braves made the right moves that produced a dynasty that may never be repeated.

From 1991 (their worst-to-first year) to 2005, essentially the span of my K-12 education, the Atlanta Braves amassed 14 division titles, 5 NL championships, and a World Series title in 1995.  They won 1431 games in that span in the regular season, losing only 931, produced 7 Cy Young Award winners, 2 Major League MVP Award winners, and, possibly, 6 potential Hall of Famers (Chipper, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, McGriff, and Pendleton). 

Bobby Cox is one of the best managers of all-time and his send-off is incredibly fitting.  One more year in the postseason for the Braves and the last for Bobby Cox.  Maybe we can send him into the sunset with a World Series ring.

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